Recently, I came across a YouTube video from the Nerdstalgic channel entitled The Problem With Disney’s Movies In One Word. Now, before I go any further, let me just point out that I love Disney. Always have. While there are people who are dropping Disney+ due to season one of The Mandalorian being done, I’m enjoying the heck out of watching Spin And Marty, the Disney Afternoon shows, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Emil And The Detectives, and other classics. Still waiting for them to add The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh, though.
There’s also my most prized possession.
Now, on to the topic at hand. Via the video, there is a flaw in the way that Disney’s films are being made. A number of the films, even a good chunk of non-Disney films, are built upon a single word. Intertextuality. It means “The shaping of a texts meaning by another text”. Or in this case, the shaping of a films meaning by another film, and depending on how you handle it. It can be a good thing. On the downside, it could also be a bad thing.
A great example used in the video is Avengers: Endgame. Returning to the battle of New York from the first Avengers film, Thor and Rocket go to Asgard during the events of Thor: The Dark World. You feel a bit of nostalgia watching Hulk smash Loki around, and Thor seeing his mother. As the video points out, intertextuality is best used sparingly. In Endgame, going back to these moments does serve a purpose to the overall story, and in the case of Captain America seeing Peggy Carter again, Tony seeing and talking to his father, and Thor talking to his mother on the day that she’ll be killed, a purpose to a story that leads to a personal resolution. As I’ve stated in a past article, great storytelling does not have to mean fan service.
A prime example of fan service is the live action remake of The Lion King. The film relied too heavily on nostalgia for their film, really adding nothing new to the mix and using CGI to give us a realistic version of scenes with which we were already familiar. Mufasa’s death, The Circle Of Life number, Simba Timon and Pumbaa’s walk as Simba ages, and so forth, recreating all of them using photoreal CGI was just ineffably strange. Any new moments that were added would probably not be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and I can’t remember any.
Relying too heavily on nostalgia is an example of “Weaponized Intertextuality”, both the films Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin added new moments to their stories, but still relied of our nostalgic memories from the animated source materials.
I could go on, but, number one, I need to get to my main point of this article, and number two, I don’t think anyone wants to hear my opinions regarding the recent Star Wars Trilogy, at least I don’t want to get force choked by anyone. Though I did have an all time favorite scene out of the entire trilogy.
So, now this brings us to the upcoming live action version of Mulan.
It’s funny, Disney remakes Lion King almost shot for shot and fans are angry saying “What was the point to it all?”, meanwhile this trailer shows that the film is different from the animated version and the first thing the fans say is “Where’s Mushu?”
For the live-action Mulan, it looks as if the nostalgic parts are few and far between. A previous trailer showed Mulan’s father praying to the spirits of the ancestors to watch over Mulan. The entry for this film on both Wikipedia and IMDB show a credit for an actor providing the voice for Mulan’s pet cricket, hopefully just cricket chirps. The avalanche is in this trailer. A few lines we’re familiar with are spoken. Gone are Mushu, the love interest, and the songs – the new film isn’t even a musical. Even the names of the characters are different, Fa Mulan is now Hua Mulan, the leader of the enemy army is Bori Khan changed from Shan Yu, and Chien Po is now simply Po, as examples. What’s left is a story about a strong independent young woman overcoming the odds to bring honor to her family.
Incidentally, here’s the reason that Mushu was not included, though early on, there were plans to include the character: when the original film was released in 1998, Disney faced a lot of backlash from the Chinese audience, claiming that the character was disrespectful to and a mockery of Chinese customs. Perhaps changes to the character could have been made, but it was decided to drop the character altogether.
We have a new villain, a witch, Xian Lang (Li Gong). The changes that were made were to make the film a more Martial Arts Fantasy, or Chinese Wuxia. The trailer showcases that.
It’s a good thing that this film is going to be different than the animated film. Don’t get me wrong, the animated Mulan was a good film, and had a good soundtrack. In fact, I’ll Make A Man Out Of You is probably the only Donnie Osmond song that I’ll listen to more than once, though I think Jackie Chan sang it better.
The thing is, we need to get away from the safety of being in the Nostalgia Bubble. Yes, it was great seeing our favorite characters appearing in the new Star Wars trilogy. Yes, it’s great to sing Hakuna Matata along with Timon and Pumbaa – but we need to see the studios take these franchises into a different direction, to do different takes on a classic. Hell, Walt Disney did that to begin with. Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio – his film versions are totally different than the original source material. Oh sure, they all ended the same, and we know that Mulan is going to return to her family, highly respected by the Emperor, and we’ll probably hear her father tell her that the greatest gift and honor is having her for a daughter. It’s just a different journey being taken that leads to that ending, which has me intrigued.
I hope that Mulan does well in the theaters. I hope that it starts a trend at Disney to leave that Nostalgia Bubble and to be more creative when bringing us different takes on their intellectual properties. Mulan is a totally different movie than it’s animated predecessor, and I for one think that’s an awesome idea. Intertextuality needs to start being used sparingly, and not shoved down our throats.
Mulan (2020) is directed by Niki Caro and written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, based on the Chinese folklore The Ballad Of Mulan. The film stars Yifei Liu as Mulan, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, Jet Li as The Emperor, Li Gong as Xian Lang, Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan, Jimmy Wong as Ling, Txi Ma as Hua Xhou, and Rosalind Chao as Hua Li. The film is released by the Walt Disney Company and will be in theaters on March 27, 2020.
Gary DaBaum, SCIFI.radio DJ, writer, and all around nice guy, can be heard on SCIFI.radio. He’s also on Twitter: @GaryDaBaum.